Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ten Top Turkeys

When I was a kid, one of my proudest moments was when my mom would let me and my sister make either the centerpiece for the holiday table (Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas) or place cards for each member of the family. Since that was back in the dark ages before the internet, our ideas usually came from parenting magazines or a trip to the craft section of the library. But in this wonderful age of technology, a plethora of terrific holiday decorating ideas are only a few clicks away! Thanksgiving decorations generally involve either turkeys or pilgrims, with the occasional cornucopia thrown in for variety, but I have to admit that turkeys are my favorite, so here are ten of my favorite turkey crafts to do with your kids!

Coffee Filter Turkey

I used to do a variation of this project with my 2- and 3-year-old Sunday School class: simply have the kids color on a coffee filter using washable markers, then spray with water from a squirt bottle and hang to dry. The washable markers melt into beautiful watercolors when sprayed, then set again when they dry. For this project, glue the dried coffee filter onto a piece of construction paper, then cut a turkey body and feet out of brown construction paper, add black dots for eyes, an orange triangle for a beak, and a red wattle, glue it all together, and voila! A lovely, festive turkey.

Gumdrop Turkey

For each gumdrop turkey, you need a bunch of small, multi-colored gumdrops, one large gumdrop, some Nerds candies (or something similar) and a bunch of toothpicks, plus pieces of a marshmallow and red gummy candy (any shape will do; Swedish fish also work nicely). Stick one gumdrop each onto the end of five or so toothpicks and stick them into the large gumdrop to form the turkey’s body and tail. Cut another small gumdrop in half to form wings and attach them to the large gumdrop using their sticky side as glue. To make the turkey’s face, snip two small pieces of marshmallow for the whites of the eyes and stick them to a small gumdrop, then push two matching Nerds into the marshmallows to complete the eyes. Push a larger nerd (preferably yellow or orange) into the gumdrop to form a beak, then trim a bit of gummy candy to form a wattle and stick it on next to the turkey’s beak. Then break a toothpick in half and use it to attach the head to the body. Gobble gobble! These are small enough to make fun favors next to each place setting.

Turkey Hand Family

I love this one because it’s a whole family project. Each family member paints one hand – palm brown and different autumn colors for each finger and the thumb - then carefully stamps their hand on the same piece of paper to make a whole family of turkeys, each just the right size to represent their person. This is a project that can be done and saved year after year, watching the turkeys grow just as the kids do. Don’t forget to label each turkey with the person’s name and include the date!

Paper Plate Turkey

This one is super quick and easy! Simply trace each child’s hand on red paper and cut it out, cut out a peanut-shaped wattle from the same red paper, cut out a large yellow or orange triangle for a beak, and then either cut out two circles from black paper or draw the eyes on with a black magic marker. Glue all the pieces onto a paper plate to form a turkey face. It’s so quick and easy that you can make a whole flock of turkeys to decorate your Thanksgiving table!

Turkey Cones

If you want to get more 3D using paper, turkey cones are the turkey for you! Cut out a large circle of brown construction paper (trace a dinner place or use a compass), then cut the paper in half. Roll each piece into a cone shape and tape it in place. Draw eyes on white paper with a marker or pen or use plastic googly eyes and glue them on. Fold some orange paper in half and cut a small triangle on the fold to make a beak, add a red paper wattle, and glue on a fancy feather tail. And if you want to go all out, use a large needle to thread elastic cord through the edges and you can wear your turkey as a party hat!

Handprint Turkey Hat

If that hat is a bit too goofy for your taste, here’s another fun turkey hat option. First, cut two wide strips of brown construction paper and tape or staple them together at one end so you have a single long strip. Measure it to your child’s head and tape or staple it to the right size, cutting off the excess paper. Trace your child’s hand on three different colors of paper (red, yellow, and orange are suitably turkey-esque) and cut them out. Cut out a large peanut-shaped turkey head from brown paper; a folded triangle beak, two long strips for legs, and two three-toed feet from orange; a blobby wattle from red; and two round eyes from white (color them with a black marker to finish). Accordion fold the two legs. Glue or staple everything together: eyes, beak, and wattle on the turkey; turkey on top of the three hands glued in a stack; hands on the headband; feet to the folded legs; legs to the headband. Be sure to attach the legs far enough apart that you can see the happy artist’s face peeking through!!

Leaf Turkey

This turkey uses colorful autumn leaves as its base instead of construction paper. Collect various sizes and colors of autumn leaves (be sure they have stems), and pair them together with one slightly smaller than the other. Glue the smaller leaf on top of the larger, turned at just enough of an angle that the stems form two legs. Add a pair of googly eyes (or colored paper eyes), an orange paper beak and a red paper wattle, and there’s your turkey. If you collect enough different sizes of leaves, you can make a whole family of turkeys to match your own family!

Leaf Tail Turkey

If you have lots of different kinds of leaves in your yard, this leaf tail turkey can be a fun way to use them. Cut a large and a small circle out of brown paper to be your turkey body and head. Tear or cut a piece of yellow leaf to form a beak and a piece of red leaf to form a wattle, and glue them onto the smaller circle, drawing on black eyes to form the face. Glue the face onto the larger circle to form the body, then glue only the lower half of the body onto a piece of paper. Draw on a pair of turkey legs, then arrange and glue the leaves to form a colorful turkey tail! If you want to get really creative and use this one as a centerpiece, you can make two turkey bodies and two turkey faces, and use cardstock instead of construction paper for the background. Once you’ve glued the lower half of the body on, fold the cardstock base in half and glue the leaves to the turkey body instead of the paper. Then flip it over, glue the second turkey in place, and you have a nice cardstock base with festive turkeys on either side.

Toilet Paper Tube Turkey

No list of children’s projects could possibly be considered complete without at least one craft made from a toilet paper tube, and this list is no exception. Trace the child’s hand on three different colors of paper and cut them out, then glue in a stack at the bottom of the tube. Using a sharp pair of scissors, snip the tube in a V to form the turkey’s beak, then glue on googly eyes and a red paper wattle. Another craft that makes a cute favor at each place setting.

Pinecone Painting

And last, but certainly not least, let’s end with a good, messy painting project! Get a box (a large shoebox is the perfect depth), line the bottom with light-colored construction paper, and squirt some smallish blobs of various colors of paint right in the middle. Throw in a couple of clean pinecones and roll them around until the paint is nicely splattered all over the paper. Let it dry, then cut it into a large circle to be the turkey’s tail. Add a brown paper body, orange beak, red wattle, and googly eyes (the body can cover up the big blobs of paint in the center of the paper so the spattered part takes center stage). And the pinecones themselves make a pretty addition to your holiday table!

So what’s YOUR favorite Thanksgiving craft??

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Princess Problem

My daughter is a typical 3-year-old in many ways: She loves to dance. She loves to squeal. She loves to play with dolls and figurines. And she loves to dress up like a Disney princess.

Back in my day, the fascination with Disney princesses was simple. We watched the movies (if we were lucky enough to have a VCR and a collection of Disney videos), we sang the songs (which we had learned from vinyl records), and we wore the dresses (if we happened to have a mom who could sew). And no-one thought anything about it except that it was cute.

But today, many people have less than positive opinions of Disney princesses. Some complain that they are too helpless, that they teach our daughters to wait for a man to come rescue her, that they are terrible role models of complacency and symbols of female subservience. I, however, disagree. I think that every Disney princess has a positive lesson to teach our children, both male and female.

Snow White and Cinderella, for example, were both raised in a family where they were neglected and abused. And yet, they both maintained their sweet, kind, loving, and hard-working natures. In Disney's versions, neither princess tried to get vengeance on her family, even when she had the power to do so. Isn't that a positive role model?

Ariel, on the other hand, was adored by her father to the point of being spoiled. But instead of sitting back and expecting everything she wanted to be handed to her, she explored the world around her and found a way to learn on her own, discovering that there was a whole world beyond what she knew. She pushed herself beyond the boundaries of familiarity and braved the unknown. Isn't that a positive role model?

And how about Mulan? She realized that she could not protect her family's honor the way they wanted her to, so she found another way to do it. She could have simply run away, leaving her family in shame. But instead, she put herself in danger so that those she loved would be safe. She became a warrior. Isn't that a positive role model?

Belle, who is not only beautiful but smart, is devoted to her father, also to the point of sacrificing herself and her own future to save him. And her kindness and compassion is so great that she is able to see past the Beast's ugly, angry exterior and recognize the sadness and loneliness inside. Isn't that a positive role model?

Jasmine is an interesting case, being a princess who is aware that she is being forced into a subservient role which she does not want. She rebels against the society that tries to force her into a marriage which she did not choose, and in the end, uses her power and privilege to make the world a better place. Isn't that a positive role model?

Rapunzel, similar to Ariel, has a parent (in this case, a mother) who loves her to the point of smothering her, purportedly keeping her "safe" from the world, but in reality, keeping her from learning and exploring on her own. Rapunzel also manages to escape her boundaries and discover the world around her, embracing all its warts as well as its beauty. Isn't that a positive role model?

What about the most recent of the Disney princesses, the sisters from "Frozen"? Each struggles with rejection early in life, Elsa feeling forced by her parents to hide who she is, Anna feeling rejected by the older sister whom she loves. But both put their own comfort aside for the good of the people of their kingdom, going through trials which eventually teach them to ask for help and work together. Aren't those positive role models?

So when my daughter begs to put on her Snow White costume, or her Cinderella costume, or her Little Mermaid costume, I will let her do so without reservations. I'll remind her that Snow White worked hard making the beds, cleaning, and cooking dinner for her "family." I'll remind her that Cinderella did as she was asked without complaining, even when it seemed unfair. I'll remind her that Ariel learned everything she could about what was around her, and studied it with an open mind. I'll remind her that each of these women made choices about their own lives, and lived with the consequences, for good or for evil. I'll remind her that they loved and respected their parents, that they loyally stood by their friends, and that they took their destinies into their own hands instead of complacently accepting their fates.

But best of all, they did it all while wearing glittering gowns and great shoes. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Beat Those Cravings!

One of the hardest things for me when I’m trying to diet is finding satisfying snacks. I don’t like fruits or vegetables, so crunching on a carrot stick or munching on frozen grapes is not going to do it for me. I have discovered a number of snacks that do satisfy me when I’m craving something unhealthy, so here are my top five suggestions for beating the munchies!

Craving crunchy?

I’m not much of a sweets snacker; I’m not even really a salty snacker much of the time. What I crave is something with a satisfying, crunchy mouth feel. For most people, a crisp apple or some celery would be a good substitute. For me, a handful of Kix cereal meets that need for crunch without adding lots of calories, fat, or sugar. At 110 calories for 1-1/4 cups, I can make a bowl last a long time by eating each faintly sweet, deliciously crunchy nugget one happy little sphere at a time. It takes long enough that by the time I eat the last one, my stomach has registered that I’ve eaten and I’m satisfied and content.

Craving sweet?

Although I’m not generally a sweets eater, every now and then I do get a craving for something sweet – particularly now, when my house is still full of my kids’ Halloween candy. And here’s where built-in portion control comes into play: A tiny Dum Dum lollipop is just enough to soothe that craving for sweet. As long as you can force yourself to lick it or suck on it instead of chewing it off the stick, the sweetness lasts a surprisingly long time. And at 25 calories a pop, you can even have two if that first one didn’t quite do the trick.

Craving salty?
Don’t just grab whatever variety of popcorn you have in your pantry, but if you look for light-butter varieties of microwave popcorn, you can eat a ridiculous amount of popcorn for not a lot of calories. Pop Secret Light Butter has 100 calories in FIVE CUPS. FIVE CUPS, people!! It does still have 4 grams of fat, so don’t go crazy with it – but personally, two cups of popcorn is plenty to satisfy my salty cravings. One package makes about 12 cups, so portion it out into 2-cup packages in zip-lok baggies and tuck the extras away for next time. Zap it for just a few seconds in the microwave to freshen it up and get that satisfying popcorn smell going on. And, like the Kix, don’t just cram handfuls of it into your mouth. Eat it one single kernel at a time and really savor each salty, crunchy, delicious bite.

Craving spicy?

Salsa verde has only 10 calories in 2 tablespoons! And unless you have a REALLY high tolerance for heat, 2 tablespoons goes a really long way. The difficulty, of course, is figuring out what to dip in the salsa verde that doesn’t add hundreds of calories. A 4” pita is 75 calories; slice it into two circles and pop into the toaster to make pita chips, or cut it into wedges for dipping. If there are a few veggies you don’t mind (especially when hidden under a layer of spicy salsa), a single red bell pepper is about 15-24 calories, an entire head of cauliflower is under 150 calories, and a cup of cucumber slices is only 16 calories, so those are pretty generous amounts of snack.

Craving chocolate?
This is a tough one. If it’s a pretty mild craving, you might be able to get past it with a glass of chocolate milk (about 200 calories in one cup, so go easy) or hot cocoa (under 150 calories – BUT NO MARSHMALLOWS OR WHIPPED CREAM!!!), or you can munch on an entire cup of Cocoa Puffs cereal for 120 calories. But if what you’re dying for is real chocolate, nothing else will do. So the trick here is portion control. 28 M&Ms are 142 calories; Hershey’s Kisses are 22 calories each; ¼ cup of chocolate chips is 200 calories. Don’t just open the bag and start munching – get out those zip-lok baggies again and portion out your servings ahead of time. One more trick – keep the chocolate in the freezer. Chocolate tastes much better at room temperature, so it’s easier to force yourself to wait a bit before digging in. Either your craving will subside and you can convince yourself to throw them back in the freezer, or they’ll taste that much better for having had to wait.

And one more bonus craving:

Craving a cocktail? 

This is a tough one for me. What I like about cocktails is not so much the alcohol, but the interesting flavors and flavor combinations. So I find that I’m not satisfied by ordinary flavored seltzers, like cranberry-lime or mandarin orange – but Polar has just come out with a line of seasonal seltzers in unusual flavors like fudge cheesecake, butter rum, and champagne strawberry, that are interesting and unusual enough to fill the cocktail void. I find the hint of sweetness with a hint of bitter in the background very satisfying in small servings – although at zero calories, I can drink the entire bottle if I need to. And the added benefit is that the liquid fills me up and takes the edge of my hunger, so it’s a perfect pre-meal treat to help curb my appetite and keep me happy with healthier portions of my meal.

And the best part of all of these snacks is that if you go to them instead of the “real thing” often enough, every now and then you get to splurge with the ACTUAL “real thing”!!!

Well, within reason, of course. 

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Wisdom of Pinterest

Pinterest is one of those social media things, much like Facebook and Twitter, that I avoided for a very long time and when I finally succumbed, I became instantly addicted. But Pinterest has a lot of extremely practical applications. I’ve found all kinds of projects and worksheets and experiments to do with my home-school kindergartener. I’ve made dozens of recipes (most of them successful!) that I’ve found on Pinterest. I’ve even done a couple of arts and crafts type projects (a few of them successful). But what I really love finding on Pinterest are memes and quotes.

I freely admit that one of my favorite time-wasters is checking out the “Humor” category on Pinterest. It fascinates me for many reasons, not the least of which is that for some inexplicable reason it includes dozens of study hints and mnemonics for nursing students (most of which are not, in fact, humorous). But it also includes some hilarious tumblr exchanges, plenty of geek and TV in-jokes, and more than a bit of sly wisdom. And a great deal of it seems to pertain directly to my life, so much so that I actually created a Pinterest board called “This Is My Life.” Here are a few of the bits of wisdom (and whimsy) from that board.

I saw this one when I’d just started a diet. I’d always been rather fond of quoting the old saw, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels,” and then commenting, “Sure it does: bacon tastes as good as being thin feels…chocolate tastes as good as being thin feels…so does champagne…and butter…and French fries…” So eating a salad definitely makes me think that I’d rather be fat.

 In the same vein, this particular meme reminds me that I’m not the only one who eschews actual exercise for no reason other than that I simply don’t care.

What I do care about, however, is being a good parent. And I love this one, because it reminds me that there is a very fine line between being an overly protective helicopter mom and being an irresponsible beyond free-range parent. And sometimes being a good parent means vacillating between the two extremes.

This one reminds me that no matter how awesome a parent I am, my children will occasionally destroy things. Because that’s what children do. The only children who don’t occasionally destroy things are children who are utterly lacking in curiosity. And that is terribly sad. I’d rather have broken stuff than broken children.

 Very closely related to the “nice things” meme, above, this particular meme serves to remind me that I am not alone in my occasional lack of basic hygiene and grooming. I’m glad that Pinterest has shown me that I’m not the only mom of small children who occasionally realizes in the middle of the grocery store, or preschool pickup, or a rehearsal, that I didn’t brush either my hair or my teeth that day.

Not only does Pinterest offer me wisdom for being a parent, it offers me wisdom for being a wife. Sometimes it reminds me that familiarity doesn’t need to bring contempt, but that it can bring contentment instead.

Sometimes it reminds me of just how good I have it as a wife. Sadly, I need that reminder every now and then.

But my very favorite memes are the ones that just really speak to who I am and how I think. This one truly captures my love of both coffee and wine – and why each of those loves has grown and thrived.

This one is great because it applies to my whole family. We avoid wearing pants whenever possible. Who needs pants, anyway?

Pinterest reminds me that I’m not the only one who does weird, dumb things like looking at my phone to see what time it is but not actually remembering to check what time it is. Yes, I do that. On a regular basis. Shut up, you do it, too.

These are all memes that speak to who I am and what my life is like. But I also love finding quotes there that tell me who I could be and what I should aspire to.

Ina Garten reminded me that a cookie can be a momentary escape from misery.

Dr. Seuss reminded me that every moment is invaluable and should be remembered and savored.

The Dowager Countess (aka Maggie Smith) reminded me that being clever is always better than being crass.

Ernest Hemingway reminded me that it doesn’t take a lot of words to move someone’s heart. 

Pinterest reminded me that snooty, educated words are not always the best words for describing something.

Perhaps the most beautiful – and the wisest- reminder of all, however, is Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s reminder that your character, and the lives you touch during your own life, is the legacy that you will leave forever. So although I hope that at least some of my written words, perhaps even some that I’ve written in this blog over the years, will last beyond my own lifetime, I hope even more that my legacy of love and character and hope will be passed down through those whose lives I’ve touched, be they my children, or my friends, or even some random stranger who saw my actions in passing. That is the legacy I would be most proud to have passed on.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Christmas Gifts for the Person Who Has Everything, 2014 Edition

I know it’s a bit early for Christmas shopping for most of us, but you know how you always have that ONE person who’s impossible to buy for so you start looking for Christmas gifts in, like, February in the hopes of finding something cool that they don’t already have? Or maybe YOU’RE the hard-to-buy-for person and everyone in your family is bugging you for some good gift suggestions. Here is my list of ten unusual Christmas gift ideas which I guarantee that neither you nor anyone on your gift list has already.

You’re welcome.

Flavors of America Salt Collection ($60,
11 corked test tubes of salt from throughout the United States, including smoked, flavored, and infused varieties, all presented in a base of “reclaimed American cedar.” And once you’ve used up the salt, you can “use the test tubes as a delightful bud vase.”

2015 Bubble Wrap Calendar ($25,
Yes, a “bubble wrap calendar” is exactly what you think it is. If you can restrain yourself to popping a single bubble every day, this is the calendar for you! Plus “the weekends are in bold for quick reference.” There’s a selling point for ya.

Meteorite Moon Rock ($39.99,

This 12 mg specimen of genuine meteorite comes in a lovely gift box with “a [sic] high resolution artwork [which] may vary in design.” Considering that the box itself is roughly 2 inches by 1 inch, and I’m pretty sure the small object inside the white circle shown on top of the “artwork” is the rock itself, you may want to consider throwing in a magnifying glass as well.

Monogrammed Steak Branding Iron ($59.95,

You know what I think every time I toss a steak on the grill? I think, “Gee, I wish I could burn my initials into this piece of meat before I cook it.” With this personalized branding iron, now I can. Plus it comes with a lovely cedar gift box. AND your choice of bandana. (The bandana does not seem to be monogrammed, but you can easily rectify that, now that you have a personalized branding iron.)

Virtual Bartender Scale and App (Brookstone; they don’t seem to be sharing the price online…hmmm)

Love to drink but can’t mix a decent cocktail to save your life? Hook this little scale up to your tablet or smartphone, download the free app, punch in your cocktail of choice (or type in the ingredients you have on hand and let the app make a suggestion) and start pouring. The screen will tell you what to add and even show you a virtual glass indicating when to stop pouring – but it’s okay if you overpour, because it will recalculate the ingredients accordingly. (Just be sure you have some really big glasses on hand.) Cocktail shaker, cable, and cute little stand for your phone all included.

Hidden Message Collar Stays ($45,
Love notes are so passé; instead, engrave your 30- and 35-character messages of love (or whatever) on these 12 stainless steel collar stays, presented in a lovely “black bonded leather carrying case lined in red faux suede.” They even suggest a few messages to get you started, like “do or do not. There is no try.” (Apparently nothing says romance like quoting an ancient alien Muppet while misusing capitalization.) But don’t even think about talking dirty, as “orders that use inappropriate language may be cancelled.”

Hammer Time Wall Clock ($39.50,
If this item requires any kind of explanation at all, then this is not the gift for you. Move along; nothing to see here.

Planet Plates ($42.95,

This set includes eight 10” melamine plates, each depicting a different planet (sorry, Pluto). And they’re dishwasher safe! But don’t put them in the microwave. Mercury would probably be okay but Neptune would definitely melt. (Insert your own Uranus joke here.)

Spidey-Sense Shirt ($40,

This electronic proximity detector lets you live out your wildest superhero fantasies! Well, you can’t fly, or bend iron with your bare hands, or run faster than a speeding bullet, or see through walls, or – okay, never mind that stuff. Clip this (not-so) little device on the back of your collar and you'll develop a Super-Spidey Sense all your own as it vibrates whenever someone comes within five feet of you! Not recommended for use in crowds or elevators. Cheap T-shirt included at no extra cost.

Sunglasses made from old vinyl records ($435,

Your kids won’t even understand what’s unusual about these sunglasses, which are manufactured in Budapest from old phonograph records. Sadly, they do not seem to come with any kind of certificate letting you know whether you’re wearing Hootie and the Blowfish, Nickelback, or Lawrence Welk. They do come with a glasses case made from a single 7-inch vinyl record, however, which is presumably identifiable.

So there you have it: an entire list of gifts that you can bet no-one you know already has!! As to whether anyone you know WANTS them, I'll leave that determination up to you. Merry Christmas!

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